Researchers from the University of Bedfordshire visited a group of Hackney social workers yesterday to share ten principles for dealing with victims of child sexual exploitation (CSE).
Staff at Hackney Service Centre were treated to an afternoon of cake and coffee as they were presented with a series of comics that the university had commissioned as guidance for social workers.
Each comic represents one of the ten principles, which were all identified through a series of research projects carried out by the university and involved direct contact with children affected by CSE.
The principles include advice such as giving victims time to fully process their emotions and making sure they always talk to the same person.
They also suggest that instead of treating young people solely as victims, they should be given opportunities to flourish as individuals through cultural trips and creative programmes.
Dr Lucie Shuker, a senior research fellow at The International Centre, said: “Our goal is to distil messages down into a really creative format and make them available.
“Sometimes you need an image to bring it to life, to really help you empathise and get behind that familiar jargon.”
The event comes at a time when, according to children’s charity Barnardo’s, the number of young people falling victim to sexual exploitation is on the rise in the UK.
The charity recently reported a 38 per cent increase in the amount of people using its CSE services across the country.
The ten principles shared by researchers align with a guide published by the Department of Education on the topic of CSE earlier this year, which also stresses the importance of building trusting relationships with young people and creating spaces in which they feel safe to share their story.
Dr Shuker said Hackney was chosen for the information-sharing event because of its social work department’s commitment to working with researchers, as well as its understanding of the importance of listening to young people directly.
This sentiment was echoed by Lisa Aldridge, head of safeguarding and learning for children and families in Hackney, who applauded the university’s efforts: “I think it’s a really creative and fun way of getting the attention of social workers.
“There is a joint collaborative learning process across academia and practice. We can support academics to understand real life practice whereas they can give us ideas from research and theory.”
The comics were designed by Yorkshire-based artist Una, who has also published the graphic novel Becoming, Unbecoming which explores the topic of sexual violence against women.
While yesterday’s event in Hackney is currently the only one planned by the university team, Una’s comics have been released online in the hope they will be used by social workers across the country.
Deputy Mayor of Hackney Cllr Anntoinette Bramble said: “We are really pleased to welcome researchers and young people into the office today to share their comics with our social work teams.
“It’s great to have a chance for young people, academics and social workers to come together and talk about such important issues.”
To have a look at the comics or to find out more about the university’s research, please visit www.alexiproject.org.uk
Update: this article was amended at 12.45pm on Thursday 9 November 2017 to include a comment from Cllr Anntoinette Bramble.